The Tale of Canace and Machaire

Use the glossary in The Riverside Chaucer for words not glossed in the margins; see also a note on Gower's spellings.

Confessio Amantis, Book III, 143-359














































Ther was a king which Eolus 
Was hote, and it befell him thus,
That he tuo children hadde faire, 
The Sone cleped was Machaire,
The dowhter ek Canace hihte.
Be daie bothe and ek be nyhte,
Whil thei be yonge, of comun wone
In chambre thei togedre wone,
And as thei scholden pleide hem ofte, 
Til thei be growen up alofte 
Into the youthe of lusti age, 
Whan kinde assaileth the corage
With love and doth him forto bowe, 
That he no reson can allowe, 
Bot halt the lawes of nature:
For whom that love hath under cure, 
As he is blind himself, riht so 
He makth his client blind also. 
In such manere as I you telle 
As thei al day togedre duelle, 
This brother mihte it noght asterte
That he with al his hole herte 
His love upon his Soster caste: 
And so it fell hem ate laste,
That this Machaire with Canace 
Whan thei were in a prive place, 
Cupide bad hem ferst to kesse, 
And after sche which is Maistresse 
In kinde and techeth every lif 
Withoute lawe positif,
Of which sche takth nomaner charge, 
Bot kepth hire lawes al at large, 
Nature, tok hem into lore
And tawht hem so, that overmore 
Sche hath hem in such wise daunted, 
That thei were, as who seith, enchaunted. 
And as the blinde an other ledeth 
And til thei falle nothing dredeth, 
Riht so thei hadde non insihte; 
Bot as the bridd which wole alihte 
And seth the mete and noght the net, 
Which in deceipte of him is set, 
This yonge folk no peril sihe,
Bot that was likinge in here yhe,
So that thei felle upon the chance 
Where witt hath lore his remembrance. lost 
So longe thei togedre assemble, 
The wombe aros, and sche gan tremble, 
And hield hire in hire chambre clos 
For drede it scholde be disclos 
And come to hire fader Ere:
Wherof the Sone hadde also fere, 
And feigneth cause forto ryde; 
For longe dorste he noght abyde, 
In aunter if men wolde sein

That he his Soster hath forlein:

For yit sche hadde it noght beknowe
Whos was the child at thilke throwe.
Machaire goth, Canace abit,
The which was noght delivered yit, 
Bot riht sone after that sche was. 

Now lest and herkne a woful cas.
The sothe, which mai noght ben hid, 
Was ate laste knowe and kid
Unto the king, how that it stod. 
And whan that he it understod, 
Anon into Malencolie, 
As thogh it were a frenesie, 
He fell, as he which nothing cowthe 
How maistrefull love is in yowthe: 
And for he was to love strange, 
He wolde noght his herte change 
To be benigne and favorable 
To love, bot unmerciable 
Betwen the wawe of wod and wroth
Into his dowhtres chambre he goth, 
And sih the child was late bore,
Wherof he hath hise othes swore 
That sche it schal ful sore abye. 
And sche began merci to crie, 
Upon hire bare knes and preide, 
And to hire fader thus sche seide: 
"Ha mercy! fader, thenk I am 
Thi child, and of thi blod I cam. 
That I misdede yowthe it made, 
And in the flodes bad me wade, 
Wher that I sih no peril tho: 
Bot now it is befalle so, 
Merci, my fader, do no wreche!"
And with that word sche loste speche 
And fell doun swounende at his fot, 
As sche for sorwe nedes mot. 
Bot his horrible crualte 
Ther mihte attempre no pite: 
Out of hire chambre forth he wente 
Al full of wraththe in his entente, 
And tok the conseil in his herte 
That sche schal noght the deth asterte, 
As he which Malencolien 
Of pacience hath no lien,
Wherof the wraththe he mai restreigne. 
And in this wilde wode peine,
Whanne al his resoun was untame, 
A kniht he clepeth be his name, 
And tok him as be weie of sonde
A naked swerd to bere on honde, 
And seide him that he scholde go 
And telle unto his dowhter so 
In the manere as he him bad, 
How sche that scharpe swerdes blad 
Receive scholde and do withal 
So as sche wot wherto it schal. 
Forth in message goth this kniht 
Unto this wofull yonge wiht, 
This scharpe swerd to hire he tok: 
Wherof that al hire bodi qwok, 
For wel sche wiste what it mente, 
And that it was to thilke entente 
That sche hireselven scholde slee. 
And to the kniht sche seide: "Yee, 
Now that I wot my fadres wille, 
That I schal in this wise spille,
I wole obeie me therto, 
And as he wole it schal be do. 
Bot now this thing mai be non other, 
I wole a lettre unto mi brother, 
So as my fieble hand may wryte, 
With al my wofull herte endite." 
Sche tok a Penne on honde tho, 
Fro point to point and al the wo, 
Als ferforth as hireself it wot, 
Unto hire dedly frend sche wrot, 
And tolde how that hire fader grace 
Sche mihte for nothing pourchace; 
And overthat, as thou schalt hiere, 
Sche wrot and seide in this manere: 
"O thou my sorwe and my gladnesse, 
O thou myn hele and my siknesse, 
O my wanhope and al my trust, 
O my desese and al my lust, 
O thou my wele, o thou my wo, 
O thou my frend, o thou my fo, 
O thou my love, o thou myn hate, 
For thee mot I be ded algate. 
Thilke ende may I noght asterte,
And yit with al myn hole herte, 
Whil that me lasteth eny breth, 
I wol the love into my deth.
Bot of o thing I schal thee preie, 
If that my litel Sone deie, 
Let him be beried in my grave 
Beside me, so schalt thou have 
Upon ous bothe remembrance. 
For thus it stant of my grevance; 
Now at this time, as thou schalt wite, 
With teres and with enke write 
This lettre I have in cares colde: 
In my riht hond my Penne I holde, 
And in my left the swerd I kepe, 
And in my barm ther lith to wepe
Thi child and myn, which sobbeth faste. 
Now am I come unto my laste: 
Fare wel, for I schal sone deie, 
And thenk how I thi love abeie." 
The pomel of the swerd to grounde 
Sche sette, and with the point a wounde 
Thurghout hire herte anon sche made, 
And forth with that al pale and fade 
Sche fell doun ded fro ther sche stod. 
The child lay bathende in hire blod 
Out rolled fro the moder barm, 
And for the blod was hot and warm, 
He basketh him aboute thrinne. 
Ther was no bote forto winne,
For he, which can no pite knowe, 
The king cam in the same throwe, 
And sih how that his dowhter dieth 
And how this Babe al blody crieth; 
Bot al that mihte him noght suffise, 
That he ne bad to do juise
Upon the child, and bere him oute, 
And seche in the Forest aboute 
Som wilde place, what it were, 
To caste him out of honde there, 
So that som best him mai devoure, 
Where as noman him schal socoure. 
Al that he bad was don in dede: 
Ha, who herde evere singe or rede 
Of such a thing as that was do? 
Bot he which ladde his wraththe so 
Hath knowe of love bot a lite; 
Bot for al that he was to wyte, 
Thurgh his sodein Malencolie 
To do so gret a felonie. 

Forthi, my Sone, how so it stonde, 
Be this cas thou miht understonde 
That if thou evere in cause of love 
Schalt deme, and thou be so above 
That thou miht lede it at thi wille, 
Let nevere thurgh thi Wraththe spille
Which every kinde scholde save. 
For it sit every man to have
Reward to love and to his miht,
Ayein whos strengthe mai no wiht: 
And siththe an herte is so constreigned, 
The reddour oghte be restreigned
To him that mai no bet aweie, 
Whan he mot to nature obeie. 
For it is seid thus overal, 
That nedes mot that nede schal 
Of that a lif doth after kinde, 
Wherof he mai no bote finde.
What nature hath set in hir lawe 
Ther mai no mannes miht withdrawe, 
And who that worcheth therayein, 
Fulofte time it hath be sein, 
Ther hath befalle gret vengance. 




halt = holdeth 


ate = at the 

legislated (man made) law 


their eye 

father's hearing 

If it should happen, by 

lain with (had sexual 

made known 
that occasion 
abit = abideth 


ate = at the made known

flood of madness and anger 

recently born 


bond, restraint 

mad pain 



avoid, escape 

the = thee 



judicial punishment 


regard, respect 






Text adapted from: The English Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay, EETS e.s. 81-82. London. 1900-01.